In a nondescript office three stories above the bustling synagogue at Lubavitch World Headquarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., a group of senior yeshivah students have been burning the midnight oil.
Their job? To prepare and distribute videos, booklets of Chassidic teachings and other publications to dozens of yeshivahs worldwide, getting ready for what has become the largest gathering of Chabad yeshivah students of the year, coordinated by the Vaad Talmidei Hatmimim, the central Chabad student organization.
The assembly marks the 64th anniversary of the passing in 1950 of the previous Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, of righteous memory—and the day, one year later, when his son-in-law, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—accepted the mantle of Chabad leadership.
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Known as Yud Shevat (the 10th day of the month of Shevat), corresponding this year to Saturday, January 11, it has become a time of introspection and inspiration for Chabad Chassidim, as well as others touched by the Rebbe’s vision to promote Torah and Judaism to all Jews in all places, and Chassidic gatherings to mark the event will take place worldwide.
“There is a feeling of anticipation,” says Naftoli Pewzner, a senior student at Yeshivas Lubavitch in Oak Park, Mich. “This is the time when we take a good look at ourselves and ask the hard questions of ‘Who am I, and what am I doing to do to become the Chassid I want to be?’ ”
Pewzner says many of the school’s 80 students have been participating in voluntary study sessions, where they cover a range of the Rebbe’s teachings, including a specially prepared syllabus on the mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael (love for fellow Jews), which was central to the Rebbe’s approach.
The students will travel by bus to New York, where they will be joined by their peers—and indeed, people of all ages—who come to spend at least part of the day in Queens, N.Y., near the Ohel, the resting place of both Rebbes.
Themes and Discourses
During his lifetime, the Rebbe would deliver a special Chassidic discourse every Yud Shevat, each time beginning with the words from the “Song of Songs”: “Bati legani achoti kalah,” “I have come to my garden, my sister, [my] bride.”
A time for inspiration and fellowship
In his first discourse, delivered in 1951, the Rebbe outlined many themes that would characterize his tenure: the firm belief that the physical world is a Divine garden just waiting to be tended; the imperative to share the light of Torah with others; and the primacy of positive action.
They were based on a discourse by the previous Rebbe, which was published to be distributed on the very day he passed away. Every year, the Rebbe would elaborate on another theme discussed in the original discourse.
Rabbi Yossi Bendet, program coordinator at the Vaad (as the student organization is known), says many of the students will have studied a number of the discourses in preparation for the day, and some will have even learned them by heart. The Vaad has also sent all Chabad yeshivahs a video of a portion of the Rebbe’s 1983 public Yud Shevat address with English and Hebrew subtitles prepared by JEM (Jewish Educational Media). It is accompanied by a Yiddish transcript with Hebrew and English translations.
Since Yud Shevat will coincide with Shabbat this year, many of the students will spend the entire day in close proximity of the Ohel.
Bendet says the Vaad, under the directorship of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Altein, is lining up senior rabbis and mentors to lead the students in farbrengens—informal gatherings where they will share inspiration, memories and teachings connected to the day. Similar gatherings are planned for the students in Crown Heights, the Lubavitch enclave where the Rebbe lived for 50 years.
After Shabbat concludes, nearly 2,000 students from five continents will get together in the brightly lit Campus Chomesh Hall in Crown Heights for the annual Kinus Hatmimim, or student conference.
This year’s event will feature an address by 83-year-old Rabbi Yoel Kahn, the chief expositor of the Rebbe’s teachings, many of which he was instrumental in editing and recording. Bendet says another feature will be never-before-released footage of the Rebbe from the 1970s.
Another unique feature is that it coincides with the conclusion of the 32nd cycle of Mishneh Torah, as instituted by the Rebbe 30 years beforehand. The special milestone will be marked with a siyum celebration, in which the 1,000-chapter work is concluded and immediately begun anew.
Despite the attention and labor that Bendet and his team of student volunteers have been pouring into the logistics and program of the conference, he notes that the most important part cannot be planned.
“There is that electrifying feeling of being together with thousands of fellow young students, all dedicated to studying the same Torah and growing as Chassidim of the Rebbe,” Bendet stresses. “The bottom line is that they should get back on the plane or the bus with renewed vigor and excitement that will translate into continued personal growth in the months ahead—and that feeling is priceless.”